Alison Smithson

Postgraduate research student

I embarked upon my first degree studies after retiring from a business career in central banking and, later, voluntary sector management.

Overview

Having always had an interest in history and archaeology, I volunteered to contribute to the research for a local history book and produced a chapter about the Victorians for the publication which was published in 2001. Later, I was a volunteer digger on the Chester Amphitheatre excavation for three seasons under the direction of Tony Wilmott.

I initially embarked upon a single honours History programme but after a year transferred to combined History/Archaeology. My undergraduate dissertation (for which I won the 2010 Chester Archaeology Society Dissertation Prize) was entitled ‘An Army of Ordinary People: Religious Nonconformism in Chester and South-West Cheshire, 18th – 20th Centuries’. A distillation of the dissertation will feature in a future edition of the Society’s journal.

My interest in Nonconformism was generated by living next to a Methodist Chapel in a rural area of south Cheshire; observing congregations, social activities and funerals, and the decline, closure and subsequent vandalism of the chapel. I set out to record and document urban and rural places of worship, graveyards, memorials, and other material culture, before such evidence was either destroyed or converted to other uses. I also investigated nonconformist relationships with the established Church, and was able to refute negative impressions of nonconforming people as mere horny-handed sons of toil.

In October 2011, under the supervision of Professor Howard Williams, I began postgraduate study, building on aspects of my dissertation, and informed by some contemporary researchers into nonconformism within post-medieval archaeologies of religion. This will be a cross-border study and will aim to investigate how the use of religious language and the treatment of single-gendered burials might differ from family memorials and vary between religious, secular and civil mortuary commemoration.